This week’s Joint Undersea Warfare Technology conference will be a great opportunity to study and discuss the submarine force’s capabilities as an effective nuclear deterrent, namely with the Ohio Replacement class submarine.
Starting in 2027, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines will begin to retire at a rate of one hull per year as they reach the end of their 42-year operational lifetimes. To meet the national requirements for nuclear deterrence and promote global stability, the Navy is developing an Ohio Replacement class, designed to remain in service into the 2080s.
This new class of submarine will become operational just in time to continue meeting national strategic requirements in 2031. As we continue to refine its design and technology to best meet future warfighting requirements, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss some of the questions I am asked the most on our upcoming class of submarine.
Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build fewer ships with more missile tubes?
As we have moved through the designing phase, we conducted a detailed analysis of many force structure options. A force of 12 Ohio Replacement nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) with 16 missile tubes satisfies national strategic deterrent requirements at the most affordable cost. Twelve Ohio Replacement SSBNs meet at-sea strategic patrol requirements and sustains this requirement while some of the SSBNs are unavailable due to planned maintenance.
Reduced-force options we considered failed to meet the current at-sea and nuclear employment requirements, increased risk for force survivability, and limited the flexibility in response to an uncertain strategic future. A 12-ship, 16-missile tube SSBN force has sufficient, not excessive, flexibility and capacity.
If we need to build 12 submarines, why is it acceptable for the number to drop to 10 for so many years?
Because ship construction of the Ohio Replacement shifted from the year 2019 to 2021, there will be fewer than 12 SSBNs from 2029 to 2042 as the Ohio-class retires and Ohio replacement ships join the fleet. During this time frame no major SSBN overhauls are planned, and a force of 10 SSBNs will support current at-sea presence requirements.
However, this provides a low margin to compensate for unforeseen issues that may result in reduced SSBN availability. The reduced SSBN availability during this timeframe reinforces the importance of remaining on schedule with the Ohio Replacement program to meet future strategic commitments. As the Ohio Replacement ships begin their mid-life overhauls in 2049, 12 SSBNs will be required to offset ships conducting planned maintenance.
How are you managing the shipbuilding costs?
Cost control is paramount throughout the Ohio Replacement program, from early design work and critical research and development through construction and follow-on operating costs. The Department of Defense set an aggressive cost goal of $4.9 billion per hull (calendar year 2010) as an average cost for hulls 2-12.
To date, the Navy has reduced costs by reducing specifications to the minimum necessary to meet national strategic deterrent requirements, implementing modular construction design, re-using the Trident II D5 Strategic Weapons System, and re-using Virginia- and Ohio-class components where feasible. The Virginia class construction program, through aggressive management and collaboration between government and industry, has developed into a model ship building program, continually coming in under budget and ahead of schedule. Ohio Replacement design and construction will build on this success.
What is the impact on other shipbuilding requirements?
The Navy recognizes that replacing the Ohio-class submarine will have a large impact on the Department of the Navy shipbuilding budget, as SSBN procurement is a significant investment made once every ~40 years.
However, the Navy is actively working to reduce costs and has already reduced approximately $1.1 billion in construction per ship and ~$3 billion in design from its fiscal year 2011 plan (calendar year 2010).
The design incorporates a nuclear reactor that will not require refueling, enabling the planned force of 12 Ohio-replacement SSBNs to provide the same at-sea presence as the current force of 14 SSBNs, and saving taxpayers $20 billion (calendar year 2010) over the life of the class.
Since the Virginia-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine (SSN) construction has been so successful, why not build an SSBN with a Virginia-class hull and a missile compartment insert? Or, why not build new Ohio-class SSBNs since they were such an effective platform?
From 2008 to 2009, a team of Navy and civilian researchers conducted an in-depth, detailed analysis of alternatives to study the various options for the future SSBN. A Virginia-class submarine with an added ballistic missile compartment and Ohio-class production restart were two of the alternatives considered.
Although some savings would be realized due to lower design costs, an SSBN class based on a Virginia hull would require additional platforms, additional nuclear refueling, increased personnel costs, and its acoustic signature would be vulnerable to projected threats.
Ultimately, the Navy would receive an SSBN class that is more expensive and less capable. Similarly, rebuilding Ohio-class SSBNs would save on design costs. However, the Ohio-class does not have sufficient stealth to stay viable out to the 2080s, and construction of more Ohio-class ships would not be able to take advantage of efficiencies of modern construction techniques.
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